Archives: Drinks

Our interview with Bobby Stuckey of Boulder’s Frasca

Almost a year ago now, Brett and I stumbled across a little gem on Netflix called Somm. It’s a 2012 documentary that follows four sommeliers as they attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam – a test with one of the lowest passing rates in the world. I was blown away by the sheer volume of information that these sommeliers must retain to even have a chance at passing the exam. After watching the film, not only did I gain a huge amount of respect for anyone that aspires to reach such a level as a wine educator, but I asked the obvious question: Are there Master Sommeliers in Colorado? You bet there are. In fact, there are 13 throughout the state. Looking over the list on the Master Sommeliers website, I realized the other day that I had even met one of them and wasn’t even aware that he had achieved this rare distinction – Bobby Stuckey, of Boulder’s Frasca.

A little background: Stuckey teamed with Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson to open the restaurant in 2004 and it is now arguably one of Colorado’s finest restaurants. And the pair actually worked together at world famous restaurant, The French Laundry. It was here that Stuckey earned the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Wine Service Award. Suffice it to say, Stuckey knows his wine and he loves sharing what he knows.

I picked his brain recently on a handful of topics. Here’s what I learned:

1. [Ryan] You were once a pro cyclist, how did you get interested in wine?

[Bobby Stuckey] I was into wine before I was a pro cyclist. I’ve been bussing tables since 1983 (and still do to this day). While I was a domestic pro in the early 90’s, I couldn’t afford just to be a pro cyclist. It turned out to be a great thing that I stayed in the industry while riding, because it was during that time that I found out I wanted to be in the hospitality business the rest of my life.

2. The food scene has improved considerably in recent years in the Denver and Boulder area. How has the wine culture changed in Denver/Boulder since opening Frasca in 2004?

The wine culture as a whole has improved immensely in Denver and Boulder. There are so many great wine lists now. With saying that, I’m amazed that we haven’t had a growth of great, full time sommelier positions despite this trend.

3. As a wine educator, you have done much to popularize Friulian wine. What is it about this region that you find so appealing?

We’ve spent the last 12 years at Frasca in the exploration of Friulano cuisine and wine. Friuli is the one region in the world that I’ve found to have so many expressions of the same varietal, so many different styles, all executed very well. For example,  on the same block, you might meet a producer making a Tocai Friulano in a crispy, non-oxidative style. His neighbor might be making it with a lot of bâtonnage (stirring the lees by hand) and malolactic fermentation (bacteria conversion), very powerful when combined with French oak. They’re all right, but they just have different points of view. Very rarely do you encounter that in any other wine region. In fact, very few regions can handle that many winemaking styles. In Friuli, they’re all appropriate, and they’re all correct.

 bobby stuckey frasca boulder

Where are you eating and drinking on your day off? Or are you cooking at home?

Depending on time of the year, I normally have Sundays off, and that usually entails enjoying  a great bottle of wine with my wife, Danette, and whatever she wants to eat. We love having brunch at The Kitchen. I also love going into Oak – they have a great pork shoulder and great wine selection.

I know there are some very surprising wine and food combinations out there, like chardonnay and popcorn or syrah and Indian food. Is there a peculiar combination that you’re particularly fond of?

My favorite combination is Pierre Peters Champagne and Frasca’s housemade potato chips, that are reserved for guests who dine at our Chef’s Table…and me.

More information

Here’s an excellent TedX talk on Hospitality that Stuckey gave in Boulder a couple years back.
Frasca Food and Wine is located in Boulder at 1738 Pearl St. Bobby Stuckey works most nights, be sure to say hi!

What is corked wine?

“Isn’t all wine corked,” you may be asking? Well, yes, unless it’s a screw top, which is becoming more and more popular in the winemaking world. But when we talk about wine being “corked,” we mean something else. Corked wine, also known as cork taint, is a phenomenon caused by the presence of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) – a frustrating little molecule that can spell the demise of many a wine.

Really, the only way to identify corked wine is to smell it. Think: wet dog or wet cardboard. 

However, a very faint TCA presence can sometimes go unnoticed by the novice wine drinker. Mildly corked wine may only subdue the aroma and taste of the wine. However, I should note that TCA does not have a specific smell, but that it’s actually masking the wine’s inherent nose.

So, how does this happen in the first place?

The mechanism at play is that TCA finds its way into corks, among other things. The TCA actually comes from a fungus reacting to a plant fungicide that contains chlorine. TCA can be found all throughout a winery – in the cardboard boxes, the oak casks, but the primary breeding ground is the cork itself.

And I should note that corked wine is completely safe to drink. It won’t hurt you, but it certainly won’t be the experience you had in mind.

If you believe the statistics, the average wine drinker will encounter around 100 bottles of corked wine in their lifetime. It’s about a bottle in every 2 cases of wine, about 2% of bottled wines. It’s not so much a matter of if you’ll encounter cork taint, but when.

Something to remember is that when the sommelier brings you your wine and pours you a little in a glass, he’s not waiting to see if you like the wine, but for you to tell him if it’s corked. It’s completely OK to turn back a glass for cork taint. Somms want you to have a good experience and sending back a bottle isn’t considered impolite at all.

Wrap up

So long as winemakers are using real cork in their bottles there will always be a chance for contaminated wine. And if (when) you run into a bottle that has been corked, return it if you can, and if not, just pour it down the sink and open something else.

Cheers.

Further reading

How to tell if wine is corked, Wine Folly

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By Ryan Wagner

How to order a martini like a man

Ah, the venerable martini. Clear as water, flammable, and with a reputation for elegance and purity.

But for many, it remains an intimidating beverage choice because they simply don’t know how to order a martini in the first place. Telling a bartender that you’d like a martini will prompt a cascade of questions – vodka or gin, shaken or stirred, up or on the rocks…?

Ahhh! But all I wanted was a martini!

Let’s break it down so that next time you can walk up to the counter like a pro and order the Don Draper go-to.

***

The key thing to remember is that the martini is basically like drinking pure vodka or gin. Sure, there’s a little vermouth in there and a touch of olive flavor, but really, it’s a whole lot of alcohol. Consequently, a martini isn’t for everyone.

But for those of us that enjoy a good martini, we know that there’s a special kind of magic involved when one chills vodka or gin and combines it with a soft touch of vermouth. Simple as can be, but oh so wonderful!

In my own humble opinion, I believe that when you want to complement your dinner, order wine. When you want to celebrate, order champagne. When relaxing with friends, beer. And when you simply want to feel a bit loose (or tight, in Hemingway parlance), order a martini.

Step 1: Gin or vodka

Let’s begin with the rather polarizing topic of whether a martini should be made with gin or vodka. I’m a vodka guy, but I’ll admit that the “classic martini” is one made with gin. And stirred, so as not to bruise the spirit, which does happen. Remember, gin is made with botanicals, so different brands can taste very unique.

Vodka, on the other hand, is a little bit more robust. It has a far different taste and mouth-feel than its British counterpart. If you’re going to try a vodka martini for the first time, please heed my advice: Go top shelf. Budget vodkas are just fine for mixed drinks and brunch staples (here’s looking at you, bloody mary), but the cheap stuff will go down like rubbing alcohol when only paired with vermouth.

Step 2: Dry or wet

Dry or wet refers to how much vermouth you want in your martini. Vermouth, for your reference, is a type of botanical wine, and a dry vermouth will be somewhat bitter. Ordering a dry martini means that you’ll have only a splash of vermouth – sometimes no more than just enough to wet your glass.

Conversely, a wet martini is one made with more dry vermouth. This cocktail will cut through the sharp vodka taste and give you a more bitter and therefore, vermouth flavored cocktail.

Historically, martinis were nearer to a one-to-one ratio of vodka/gin to vermouth. Over the years, the proportion of vermouth has receded and our glasses have been filled more with vodka or gin. Today, a modern martini is dry.

Step 3: Shaken?

Or stirred? I’m sure you know what James Bond likes to order, but what’s the difference between the two styles?

Martinis shaken in a cocktail shaker, aside from being a bit theatrical, end up with small ice shards floating on top. Personally, I like this. The ice dilutes after only a couple of minutes, but I enjoy the first couple sips with the soft texture that the ice lends to the drink.

Remember, don’t shake gin, only vodka. Gin will bruise and you’ll compromise the integrity of the drink.

Stirred is fine whether you’re drinking gin or vodka.

Step 4: Up or on the rocks?

Ordering a martini on the rocks is a little weird, kind of like buttoning your bottom button on a suit – sure you can do it…but just don’t.

Order your drink “up” for a clean and classic look.

Step 5: Garnish

As I’m sure you already know, the default garnish for a martini is with an olive. However, asking for one with a twist with get you a thin lemon peel for a bit of citrus taste (try this with a wet martini).

3 martinis you should know:

Dirty martini

Made with a splash of olive juice (or a big splash depending on your inclination). The dirty martini is actually how I first developed my taste for martinis. You’ll get a significant olive flavor and the drink will appear cloudy with a green hue.

Gibson martini

Just a different garnish – with a small pearl onion in place of the olive.

Vesper martini

Courtesy of Ian Fleming via James Bond, the Vesper martini is made with one measure vodka, 3 measures of gin, and a half measure Kina Lillet – a wine aperitif. Kina Lillet has been discontinued, but a fine contemporary substitute is Cocchi Americano.

Wrap up

Any questions?

After re-reading the above explanation, maybe ordering a martini is a bit complicated after all! Here’s all you need to know:

Store this away for future use: “I’d like a dry vodka martini, please. Up, one olive, and shaken.”

All you need now is a peaked lapel suit to match your discerning choice in beverages…

By Ryan Wagner

Bonus tips:

  1. Never spend more than $30 on a bottle of vodka. Vodka isn’t aged, so what are you really paying for? (It’s the marketing)
  2. You can’t go wrong with Leopold Brothers vodka. Plus, they are Denver based!
  3. Drink your martini reasonably fast, as you don’t want it to warm up.

The Americano cocktail, a unique summer drink

With the warm weather comes the circus of summer cocktails. You know the ones I’m talking about – the rum punch, the pina colada, the margarita, etc. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with any one these (I happen to be fond of an authentic rum punch), most have been Americanized with the addition of sweet syrups and pre-made mixes that have more chemicals than natural ingredients.

Allow us to offer up an alternative. The Americano.

(Yes, there is a drink and a coffee version)

The Americano cocktail is an International Bartender’s Association (IBA) official drink. Although you may not often see it ordered in a bar, it remains a classic. The cocktail was first served in creator Gaspare Campari‘s bar in the 1860s. Similar to the origin story of the cafe Americano (the coffee), the story maintains that the Italians noticed a surge of Americans who enjoyed drinking the red cocktail – at that time it was called the Milano-Torino. And as a nod to the Americans, the cocktail later became known as the Americano.

It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but there is only one way to find out if you like it!

What you’ll need

Campari

Campari is a bitter Italian aperitif and usually hovers at just over 20% alcohol. It is the result of an infusion of herbs and fruit and is characterized by its bright red color. The liqueur was invented all the way back in 1860 and at that time, the red color was actually the result of carmine dye – derived from crushed insects. This was true up until 2006, when the manufacturer stopped using carmine dye, altogether.

Regardless, Campari has been around for a long time. And aside from being an essential ingredient in the classic Negroni, we use it here in the Americano.

Note: If you want to step down the alcoholic content, try substituting Aperol for Campari. It has about half the alcohol content of Campari and even smells and tastes similar.

Sweet Vermouth

There are a handful of great vermouth brands out there, grab whatever you have handy.

Soda water

Dealer’s choice with the soda water. Brett and I prefer the cheap stuff since we can’t honestly taste a difference between budget soda water and the European cousins when mixed.

Old fashioned glass

An old fashioned drink calls for an old fashioned glass!

Ice

We recommend large ice cubes for an updated look and feel. And if it’s hot outside, one large piece of ice will last longer than smaller pieces. Brett and I even went so far as to use one singular ice cube – one that almost fills the glass completely. Just promise us that you won’t use the sad little ice chunks that you find at the corners of your ice cube try.

Orange

For garnish! Or, swim upstream and try a grapefruit.

How to make it

Step 1: Mix

1 oz Campari

1 oz sweet vermouth

Combine in the glass over ice

pouring campari

Step 2: Top with soda

Add soda water to your liking. But err on the side of just a splash.

Step 3: Garnish

Carefully peel the orange and add a twist to the glass.

finished americano

Your turn

So, there you have it, the Americano. Super easy.

It’s an aperitif that’s perfect for a hot summer afternoon. And one that goes great with a short sleeve linen shirt and seersucker shorts, but that’s a different story.

By Ryan Wagner

Do you need a refresher on how to make a Manhattan? Do we have a blog post for you!

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